History of Fashion: Evolution of Trousers

by Lindsay Kranitz

Imagine a life in which women were not allowed to wear pants? As old as this story may be, dating back to the 1800s, it is still a story of importance. From horse riding pants that held weapons for defending, to the everyday cigarette legged trouser, women have defended their right against the patriarchal society to wear the historic and ever so comfortable “two-legged garments.” 

Most people put their pants on in the morning without even thinking about how we got to this stage in history. I mean, I definitely don’t. Contrary to what you may feel, pants should hold a special place in your heart, especially if you’re a woman.

Women used to dress as men, trousers and all, in order to get equal job opportunities and better pay. This was a time in history where gender equality was even more hazy than present day. Laws were passed in states such as Ohio and Texas regarding societal clothing restrictions that called for women only wearing “women’s clothing” and men only wearing “men’s clothing.”

As women started to fight for equal clothing rights, the great mind of Amelia Bloomer designed the first pair of pants that were to be worn under skirts. Women from all over jumped to this trend; it was as close as they could get to wearing regular pants at the time. Although they were just bloomers, and unflattering at best, it was still a first step to the everyday pants we know and love. 

Eventually some of the laws were reduced. Women were then able to wear pants for activities such as biking and horseback riding. These activities were becoming a popular trend among women at the time so the laws were changed to fit the needs of women’s comfort. As time went on, society became more lenient and gender clothing laws were diminished. Fashion magazines, award shows and even the everyday workplace were starting to become accepting of women wearing trousers.

Hillary Clinton was the first woman to wear trousers for her First Lady portrait. In light of Clinton’s trouser debut, feminists were redefining what it meant to be feminine, which included the use of trousers as an everyday pant. So, the next time you wear a pair of those trendy trousers from Urban Outfitters, know that Hillary Clinton, as well as many other bold women in history, are proud of you. Fast forward a couple of years and now we are living today with equal rights by society to wear pants because of the defiance and strength of women in history. 

A version of this originally appeared in
The Teller December 2019 Issue #9

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